Name: Nathan O’Malley
Vocation: Leather Worker, Musician
Hometown: St. Paul Park, MN
Work: Leather Works Minnesota, Make Well Co., Island of Bells
Family businesses are found all around the Midwest, a staple if you will of the region. From the hardware store on Main St. to the the haberdashery on Michigan Ave. these businesses are often rooted in skills passed down through generations. In Lowertown St. Paul, MN just off E. Prince St. you will find a family business that is the envy of any Midwestern Gentleman, Leather Works Minnesota – makers of fine leather goods.
As you enter, you may catch glimpse of a young man, more than likely sporting a grizzly beard and a 5 panel hat hunkered over a desk, tools in hand. That man is Nathan O’Malley and there is more to him than his skills as a leather worker… much more. “I am a college graduate with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and am a full-time leather worker” Nate says when asked, but even then, its doesn’t even scratch the surface of Nathan’s creativity, something he actively harvests.
“I cannot live without my creative drive.” Nate says, “I have found that in seasons where I’m struggling to get in touch with my creative side, I feel like I’m drowning. Our purpose is found in the pursuit of destiny, and the ability to create is a picture of the divine. We are fully ourselves when we are operating in our areas of creativity and skill.
Nathan’s drive for creativity not only cultivates itself behind the swing of a mallet to a chisel but in his music as well and has resonated in the form of Island of Bells. “Yes, Island of Bells has been my baby for the last 9 years… I started Island of Bells in 2007 originally as a Hip Hop spoken word project. That didn’t pan out, as I realized I was terrible at spoken word… I think what it has evolved into over the years is ambient, guitar heavy, electronic music with a hint of hip hop influence in the beats and airy vocals.”
While his description does cover the bases of what it is composed of, when you mesh those elements together you get more than music, but an experience. His tracks feel like a trip through his mind, similar to thought, a number of disconnected neurons come together to formulate a cohesive statement, or in this case… beautiful compositions. Now while we could easily go on about Nathan the musician, its his work with leather that was the focal point of our conversation.
With a large drip from Dogwood Coffee in hand, Nathan opens the doors to Leather Works Minnesota. “Every morning I get to the shop and turn on the machines. We like to run our shop in a circular motion, where every item is imprinted, then edge dyed, pieced, sewn, and brought through the final finishing process.” Once finished, many of the products leave the small shop on the shores of the Mississippi for stores all across the US, from California to Maine.
“I counted that we have 14 steps to finishing each item that we produce” Nate continues regarding the process and while “things get hectic at LWM from time to time” they ensure a laid back atmosphere during the workday even with the boss of all bosses overseeing it all. “My Mom Lee is the one who really runs the show. She handles all of the administrative work, and keeps everything flowing as far as stocking leather, hardware, and customer contact.”
There is satisfaction a man gets when working with his hands but when you have been doing it your whole life as Nathan has, that satisfaction goes one step farther. “The most satisfying part of my work day is getting an item made perfectly. We tend to be our own worst critics at LWM, but we truly desire that every item that leaves our door is flawlessly put together and enjoyed for years to come.” When you have been in the game for as long as he has, perfection becomes the drive and the end user is the benefactor.
The Midwest has played an ongoing role in Nathan’s life, he says “the years have all been formative in their own ways, but I’d say the last three years have been the most cultivated. Not only does the Midwest produce its own wonders of nature, but it also produces quality people, and I’m thankful to have a group of pals that enjoy hitting the road to explore it as much as I do.” That road for Nathan often leads to the North Shore a place for him that “…almost leads to repentance.” He goes on to say “… there is something about the Midwest, and specifically to me Minnesota, that has an air of calm humility, wisdom, connection, and a strong work ethic.”
Nathan truly embodies a Midwestern Gentleman, a man who is able to take complexity and harness it into simple, honest offerings – through music and leather. He has an awareness of his skills (even when it comes to spoken word) and pursues endeavors that satisfy him, he is his own man and we are proud to call him one of our own.
“I define Midwestern Gentleman as a man whose character is defined not by fleeting thoughts of “ elsewhere”, but by time and investment into his local culture and work and how that incorporates into his daily life.” – Nathan O’Malley
Thank you to Nathan for taking the time to sit in the MWG hot seat. To see more of Nathan’s work visit www.leatherworksminnesota.com and follow them on instagram @leatherworksmn. Of course, tonight we recommend pouring yourself a Corpse Reviver (Nathan’s favorite) and sinking into euphoria to @IslandOfBells on Soundcloud.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Eli Bartz